Image: Official gives out tea in Lviv, Ukraine
Yuriy Dyachyshyn  /  AFP - Getty Images
An official gives out hot tea to an elderly man at a newly opened shelter in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Monday. Temperatures have plunged to as low as minus 23 C (minus 10 F) in the country.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/31/2012 6:14:32 AM ET 2012-01-31T11:14:32

A severe and snowy cold snap has killed at least 48 people across central and eastern Europe.

Officials have responded with measures ranging from opening shelters to dispensing hot tea, with particular concern for the homeless and elderly.

Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that the number of people who died of hypothermia in recent days reached 30.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said on its website that most of the victims were found frozen on the streets. On Monday, officials had put the death toll at 18 people.

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Temperatures plunged to minus 23 C (minus 10 F) in the capital Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine as schools and kindergartens closed and authorities set up hundreds of heated tents for the homeless.

Officials have appealed to people to stay indoors.

BBC Weather's Nina Ridge blamed a "very well-established" area of high pressure in Scandinavia and western Russia that was keeping mild air in southern Spain and northern Africa for the "extreme cold."

"Temperatures really are going to struggle across the bulk of Europe," she added.

Ridge predicted that daytime temperatures would climb no higher than minus 19 (minus 2 F) in Moscow on Wednesday. The mercury normally reaches minus 8 (18 F) at this time of year in the Russian capital.

In Poland, at least 10 people froze to death as the cold reached minus 26 C (minus 15 F) on Monday.

Malgorzata Wozniak, a spokeswoman for Poland's Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press that elderly people and the homeless were among the dead. Police were checking unheated empty buildings for homeless people they could take to shelters.

Train tracks damaged
Warsaw city authorities decided to place more than 40 heaters in the busiest city transport stops to help waiting passengers keep warm.

City authorities in the Czech capital of Prague set up tents for an estimated 3,000 homeless people. Freezing temperatures also damaged train tracks, slowing railway traffic.

In central Serbia, three people died and two more were missing, while 14 municipalities were operating under emergency decrees. Efforts to clear roads blocked by snow were hampered by strong winds and dozens of towns faced power outages.

Police said one woman froze to death in a snowstorm in a central Serbian village, while two elderly men were found dead, one in the snow outside his home. Further south, emergency crews are searching for two men in their 70s who are feared dead.

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The current freeze came after a period of relatively mild weather.

"Just as we thought we could get away with a spring-like winter ..." lamented Jelena Savic, 43, from the Serbian capital of Belgrade, her head wrapped in a shawl with only eyes uncovered. "I'm freezing. It's hard to get used to it so suddenly."

In Bulgaria, a 57-year-old man froze to death in a northwestern village and emergency decrees were declared in 25 of the country's 28 districts. In the capital of Sofia, authorities handed out hot tea and placed homeless people in emergency shelters.

Strong winds also closed down Bulgaria's main Black Sea port of Varna, while part of a major highway leading to Bulgaria and Greece from Turkey was closed after a heavy snowfall. Nearly 200 Turkish Airlines flights to and from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport were canceled, and a city sports hall was turned to a temporary shelter for some 350 homeless people.

The temperature in Turkey's province of Kars, which borders Armenia, dropped to minus 25 C (minus 13F) on Sunday night.

The situation was similar in Romania, where reports said four people have died because of freezing weather. There, authorities sent prison inmates to shovel snow and unblock paths leading to a shelter with some 300 stray dogs and puppies.

Weather forecasters believe the cold snap will continue.

"We are getting some 'real' winter this week," Croatian meteorologist Zoran Vakula said.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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